This is a tale of two of my favorite bands of all-time, UFO and Saxon, and the current tour that features both acts.
Although these two bands are roughly 10 years apart in age, both groups still regularly tour with members who could collect Social Security if they lived in the States. The problem now is one act can still pull off its sound from the glory days, and one can’t.
If you guessed that UFO is the band having problems onstage today, you would be right. This is a group that has long toured without its superstar guitarist, Michael Schenker, and has put up with the antics of lead singer Phil Mogg for most of its career.
Mogg is unfortunately the real problem these days. Despite his legendary reputation as a drinker and a guy that can sometimes lose it onstage (Schneker is best known for these types of antics), it really doesn’t matter if Mogg is sober, in a great mood or happy as a lark these days. He simply can’t sing the songs well that he made famous in the band’s heyday; it’s just a simple fact.
The nine songs that the band played from its “greatest hits” era were all played slower and down-tuned from the legendary versions. And songs like “Lights Out,” “Too Hot to Handle,” “Rock Bottom” and “Doctor Doctor” are legendary if you’ve followed this band since 1975 like I have.
But it wouldn’t be fair to tell someone to go see these guys expecting to hear anything that resembles that band that terrorized headliners back in the 70’s and 80’s... and guitarist Vinnie Moore is a big part of that debacle as well.
Despite being an excellent axe-man in his own right, Moore has one problem-he isn’t Michael Schenker. He guitar tone doesn’t sound like Michael’s iconic V and wah-wah, he can’t really phrase a solo like him, and the songs that Vinnie has written or recorded for the band that are played live just sit there and take up 4-5 minutes of the set when they are trotted out. One guy I know left before the celebrated solo during “Rock Bottom,” because he knew it wouldn’t be anything like the legendary recorded solo. I couldn’t tell you if he was right or wrong because he was my ride, so I went with him. But many in the crowd towards the back of the jammed pack club had similar thoughts, and no one was that impressed with what they were seeing on stage this night.
Saxon, on the other hand, ripped the place to shreds. Many here in our reading audience may be going “Saxon? Really?,” but true fans know that Saxon is one the best and most consistent metal acts of the past 40 years. The group still turns out great material and can absolutely burn up a concert stage. The crowd in San Francisco was equally impressed, with many commenting that the English quintet should have headlined the show after seeing what UFO had to offer, and I think they were right.
This English metal powerhouse has been around since the start of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and despite a couple of personnel hiccups and a few albums when the band listened to the wrong label executive and “tweaked” its sound in the 80’s, Saxon has been churning out quality metal since 1979. Vocalist Biff Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn have been around since the beginning, and guitarist Doug Scarrett, bassist Nibbs Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler make up the best version of Saxon since the group’s classic days back in the early 1980’s.
The band’s appeal can be attributed to two things: the band slots nicely between traditional metal (think Judas Priest) and straight ahead rock and roll (Aerosmith, KISS, etc…) in addition to Byford’s leadership.
And it is Byford who is front and center, just like he’s always been, since the band first plugged in its amps. He is a charming, humble Englishman, and the one thing I really like about him is that his voice has remained the same since the bands inception. He will not lose his voice because he strains to hit notes that only dogs can hear. He might lose it for a variety of other reasons, but his mid-range rumble has remained remarkably steady for his entire career, and Saxon today still sounds like classic Saxon did.
The rest of the quintet is as steady as they come-it’s Biff’s show, and the rest of the boys pretty much stay out of his way, despite the remarkable riffs and steady rhythm section. And just about every song in the set was a highlight, especially golden oldies such as “Heavy Metal Thunder,” “Dallas 1 pm” and “Princess of the Night.”
Hopefully, after reading this, you will go out and see Saxon the next time the boys come to town. At this point, however, I can’t recommend seeing UFO under any circumstances. For the legend of the band to remain intact, the current rendition of this act simply needs to stop.